And, Finally, Here They Are!

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Over the last few weeks, we have been given sneak previews of these two cubs as they were moved between setts, getting larger with each transfer. Here we are in early March:

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But, on Monday night, the wait was over and they finally came above ground. At the moment they are only allowed up for a very short time and they are under the strictest of supervision, but it is lovely to finally get a proper look at them:

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Looking forward to getting to know them better as they get taken out and about more and taught how to be Badgers.

The wind has finally dropped, the temperature has risen and the Red Mason Bee cocoons have started to hatch. I have photographed the hatching – it starts with little munching sounds as the bee starts to chew its way out:

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They don’t hang around. They are off and flying away within a couple of minutes after emerging from the cocoon.

It has not been long since my last post but I do have a few more things to share with you. Here is a Zebra Spider. It is only small – maybe 5mm in length – and jumps on its prey rather than building a web. It is also very well camouflaged on this stone.

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Salticus scenicus

The bird ringer came today now that the wind has dropped and caught 22 Linnets. Three were retraps but the others were ringed. He has now ringed approximately 150 Linnets along the strip.

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A male Linnet. He was born last year but will be hoping to breed this year.
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A beautiful male Robin.

Here is a photo showing utter blackness of the Crow:

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In contrast to this photo below which couldn’t be more colourful:

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Peacock Butterflies hibernate over the winter and this one is certainly showing some wear and tear.

And – hurrah! –  in the orchard, the apple blossom is starting to come out.

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In the wood, things are gradually unfolding and coming back to life. The Silver Birch trees are greening up:

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The Buzzard nest perched in the centre of the stand of Silver Birch. Buzzards have several nests to choose between each year and it doesn’t look like they will be nesting in our wood this year. 

and the ferns below them are unfurling:

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We still have a camera trained on the shallow painters tray and it is amazing how many birds are using it. Here are a couple of the more unusual visitors:

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Redwing.
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Black Cap

My last photo is another attempt to film the Tawny in the wood. A slight improvement, but still a way to go. But what does it have in its mouth – maybe a Slow Worm?

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Pheasant Courtship

35 million Pheasants are reared and released into the British countryside to be shot every year. That is a mind-blowing and horrifying number. However, here in the wood, where there is no shooting, it seems that the Pheasants are settling down to produce the next generation the natural way.

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What the trail camera has caught here is the courtship dance of the male. He lowers his head, fans out his tail and drops a wing on the side of the female to best display his most impressive plumage. He establishes a territory and attracts a harem of females which can be anything from 2 to 18 birds. Here is our male with his rather meagre harem so far of a pair of ladies:

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Since the females are ground nesting, I suppose that they are vulnerable to predation which is why there may have to be many females to one male.

Anyway, he is the most magnificent animal and I am looking forward to seeing if we get young Pheasants in due course.

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One of the Badgers in the wood is clearly a lactating female and so we also may be expecting baby Badgers here as well before too long

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There has been a second Badger hole excavated in the last few days:

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This is another single hole sett and is about 50m from the existing hole.

Coming into peak Bluebell season now but this is the best that our wood can do for Bluebells:

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But it is rather excelling itself with Primroses in the regeneration area:

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I spent some time this afternoon photographing Dotted Bee Flies sipping nectar from these flowers:

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Dotted Bee Flies are much rarer than Dark-edged Beeflies but I realise now that I should have increased the shutter speed to stop the wings moving and then the spotted wings would have been properly shown. I will try again next time I visit. I love the row of white dots down their backs as well.

I have been going through our reference books to identify this fungus below and I believe it to be the Semi-free Morel (Morchella semilibera) which is found in damp, calcareous woodland in spring:

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I have an on-going project to try to get a half decent trail camera photograph of the Tawny Owl that comes down onto the ground under the feeders at the wood most nights. This is the best I’ve got for you so far but there is so much room for improvement:

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Moving back now to the meadows. There has been a bitter easterly wind blowing across these coastal cliffs here for many days now and it seems that the onward progress of spring has slowed down.

However, this hasn’t stopped the wild Cherry tree coming out into full flower:

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Its blossom is very popular with bees of all shapes and sizes and the tree hums with them in the sunshine:

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This bee below is the most beautiful of bees, I think. She is the female Tawny Mining Bee.

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The Slow Worms are spending a lot of time warming up under the sampling squares in this chilly weather:

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Juveniles.

There are a lot of Stock Doves on the strip at the moment. They are shy and beautiful birds and I think this photo goes some way to capture their charm:

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The UK has 60% of the global population of these birds and so it is especially important that we take good care of them. Well, there are eight of them being looked after here:

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We have been releasing trail cameras from duties elsewhere and moving them up onto the strip ready for the start of the Turtle Dove season at the beginning of May. I subscribe to Birdguides alerts and I had an email only yesterday telling me that two Turtle Doves were spotted in Stodmarsh, a nearby reserve, and so they have started arriving.

We also have our Grey Partridge pair still visiting the strip and I think that this early morning photo is nicely atmospheric:

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The Mallard pair are also coming every day at dawn for a swim. They don’t stay very long and then they are off back to their nest:

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This was quite a good photo of a Field Vole in the mustelid box:

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Finally for today, we have the Foxes:

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This Fox has swivelled its ears right round to the back.

 

 

 

Early April in the Meadows and the Woods

I have been delaying writing a post thinking that the baby Badgers would come above ground and grab the headlines, but they haven’t yet. However, they have been moved again:

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And here is one of the Badgers out before it got fully dark:

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We have started our Operation Yellowhammer by putting finch food along the rotivated strip. No Yellowhammer seen so far but it is proving very popular with the Linnets:

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Also a pair of Grey Partridge are visiting:

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Since the finch food has a proportion of sunflower hearts in it, the Foxes work the strip through the night because they love sunflower hearts:

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The RSPB’s Turtle Dove conservation advisor has dropped off this year’s supplementary bird feed that we are again going to put down in attempt to encourage Turtle Doves to stop with us and breed as they arrive back into the country:

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This will go down from the beginning of May and so at that point we switch from Operation Yellowhammer to Operation Turtle Dove although, in actual fact, the feed is very similar.

I have some other photos of Foxes down at the peanut feeding area that I wanted to also include..

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All very healthy looking, I am delighted to see.

Lovely to see this group of Badgers as well:

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I put a bit of food into the Mustelid box to see what this would bring in and this was a surprise:

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Although the lid is off the box, there is a grill over it to protect any visitors from aerial attack and so this Robin definitely came in through the tunnel.

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This sweet little Vole is making a nest under one of the reptile sampling squares. I believe this to be a Short-tailed Vole (Field Vole) although I say this with a certain degree of uncertainty because I still haven’t quite pinned down the difference between this and a Bank Vole.

The Mallard pair are still popping by at dawn daily while their eggs are being laid:

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I cannot leave the meadows without posting a photo of the two regulars, the Sparrowhawks and the Heron. Here is the male Sparrowhawk:

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I have so many photos of the Heron to select from. I chose this one because I love the intensity of its downward gaze. Look at that eye:

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Those poor Frogs.

At the wood, the Primroses and Violets are fantastic:

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The camera looking at the shallow painter’s tray bird bath has been photographing the Tawny Owl on the ground nearby every night. Here is the back of the Owl from last night:

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We have now changed all the cameras around to try to get a better photo of this bird over the next few nights.

This next photo is of the Badgers at the wood. There are FIVE Badgers in this shot:

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Not all these Badgers are living in our wood – there is a large sett in another part of the larger wooded area and these extra Badgers surely must be visiting from there.

Finally for today, I have some photos of bathing birds from the two baths that we have put in the wood:

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Jay
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Great Tit and Song Thrush
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Wren
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Blackcap bathing and Chaffinch in foreground.
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Goldcrest
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Pheasant pair. I wonder if we will get chicks?

But what were the birds doing for freshwater before?

 

Hunter Turned Hunted

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This is a young female Kestrel who unfortunately has fallen foul of a Sparrowhawk. Very poignantly, I had taken a photo of her earlier that same morning when she herself was out hunting for small mammals:

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If an identikit was produced for the prime suspect for this killing it would surely lead us to this bird:

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I have managed to get a photo of the Alexandrine Parrot with its diagnostic red wing patches – it has been happily squawking around here for several months now:

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In exactly the same way as last year, a pair of Mallards have started visiting the pond early every morning – this means that the female Mallard has started egg laying. An egg is laid every 1-2 days until the clutch is complete with about 12 eggs in the nest. While this process is going on, she is very weakened and the male escorts her everywhere including coming here to the meadows for her daily bath. As soon as she has laid the last egg he goes off to join other males, his job as bodyguard being over, leaving her to sit on the eggs on her own.

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You see them at the pond above along with our other regular pond visitor, the Grey Heron. It visited this morning and the trail camera photographed it taking six frogs and two newts and, in fact, this evening as I type it is back in position again.

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Despite its relentless and ruthlessly efficient fishing for frogs at this pond over the past few weeks, against all the odds some frog spawn did get laid and this has now hatched into a very large number of tadpoles:

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This is good to see.

The mother Badger has moved the cubs again. Here she is moving one at 10.07pm:

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Although the photo is blurred, you can see that this cub is much larger now than when she first moved them earlier on in March:

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I do not understand why they seem to be being moved from the same place again – perhaps they returned there underground?

 

Then she goes back at 10.22pm:

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And returns with the second cub at 10.25pm:

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Here is a photo showing Foxes and Badger all getting along very well at the nightly peanuts.

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We have had some Red Mason Bee cocoons over-wintering in our fridge that we harvested from the Mason Bee boxes last autumn:

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Now is the time to start putting them out, a small batch at a time every few days. In this way, if the weather takes a downturn, we won’t lose all our Bees.

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The Mason Bee boxes are back out on the shed. The cocoons are put in the release boxes at the bottom so that they can fly out of the hole when they hatch. The bees will hopefully then go on to nest in the wooden tunnels above.

Additionally, our other Mason Bee project, the Mason Bee Guardian Scheme, has sent us bee cocoons and new nesting tunnels so that we can get started with that as well:

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We had a bumper Red Mason Bee year last year and sent them back 47 completed tubes.

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Bee cocoons from the Mason Bee Guardian Scheme going out into the release box.

Hopefully this year will be as good or better.

There has been a lot going on in the wood. We went there this afternoon and boiled some water in our new Kelly Kettle:

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This is a very efficient thing. You put some dry sticks and paper in the bottom and light it.  The top part then acts like a chimney – but it is a chimney with cavity walls. You can fill this space in the cavity walls with water which then heats up really quickly and easily and before you know it you are sitting with a mug of tea in your hands.

We dug in a shallow and sloping paint tray near the feeders to introduce a bit of freshwater into the wood. A week ago, we put a trail camera by the tray to see if it was being used. Well, today I had 800 photos of birds using this water. Far and away the most exciting of these was this one:

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This is a Tawny Owl and is the first evidence we have of Owls in the wood. It isn’t using the water but is probably catching mice attracted by the feeder.

Here are a few more from the paint tray:

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Female Pheasant
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Male Blackbird
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Jay

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Song Thrush
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Wren
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Male Blackcap – a new species for the wood.

If ever there was a demonstration of how valuable a pond, however small, can be for wildlife, then the 800 photos I went through this afternoon is it.

This next photo is of the two Badgers that live in the wood and they are collecting bedding. The Badgers in the meadows use hay as bedding but there is no grass here in the wood or surrounding fields and so what do they use?  Luckily, they abandoned this pile of bedding and it was still there today as I came to look at the camera.  Therefore, I can tell you that they have been scratching at ferns to pull away the dead leaves from the crowns and it was mainly these along with other general leaf litter from the ground that was making up their bedding.

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They might differ from the meadow Badgers in their choice of bedding, but their love of lounging around pressed up together is very similar indeed:

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There are vast number of Primroses out in full flower in the regeneration area of the wood. It’s very beautiful:

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The Kent County Botanical Recorder who lives nearby went to the wood to see what Violets we had growing there and it appears we have three: Hairy Violet, Common Dog-Violet and the Early Dog-Violet. She made us up an information pack to teach us the differences which was very helpful:

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I feel that I can now distinguish between the three with reasonable confidence.

She also found a patch of Moschatel growing:

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This is a tiny but exquisite little plant that is also called the Town Hall Clock because of the arrangements of the flowers on its flowerhead.

Finally for today are photos from the wood that I haven’t managed to fit in elsewhere:

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Operation Yellowhammer

Our Operation Yellowhammer is an attempt to lure Yellowhammers back to these meadows – a long way from the Government’s Operation Yellowhammer for No-Deal Brexit. Yellowhammers are birds in great trouble but each year we did have at least one male Yellowhammer calling along the hedgerow bordering the farmers field. The call is very distinctive and described as ‘A Little Bit of Bread and No Cheese’. The Cheese note is lower and drawn out and is unmistakable once you have heard it.

These are farmland birds and so, although the male Yellowhammer was using our hedgerow, the agricultural field behind the hedgerow was the reason that he was there. Then, in summer 2017, the farmer used something on the field margins that turned all the weedy plant growth a bright, lurid orange. I do not know for certain that this is the reason but, since then, we have had no calling Yellowhammer.

However, a week ago, the bird ringer spotted a male Yellowhammer in that same hedgerow and we have launched our Operation Yellowhammer to try to attract them back. We cannot control what the farmer does but perhaps we ourselves can provide what Yellowhammers need. Last year the area of the meadow shown below was dug with a digger to mimic an agricultural field edge to try to attract Turtle Doves. Now, however, there was little bare earth left still showing and so we brought in a rotivator and operator to redo it and we understand that it was very hard work!

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We didn’t attract Turtle Doves or Yellowhammer last year but we intend to try again. Turtle Doves won’t be arriving in the country for another month, so for now we can concentrate on Yellowhammer. I bought a bag of mixed bird seed for finches which apparently Yellowhammers are very fond of:

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We are now putting this seed down along the rotivated strip and we shall see what happens.

As we approach the end of March, insects seem to have sprung into action and it is lovely to see them again. This morning I thoroughly enjoyed myself photographing these:

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Dark-edged Bee-fly, Bombylius major
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Drone Fly (Eristalis tenax)
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Hoverfly Myathropa florea
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Buff Tailed Bumblebee queen.

It is not long now until the baby Badgers might make an appearance above ground. We can see that the mother badger has prominent teats. The anticipation is building.

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And there have been a few Badger daytime photos which is most rare for these Badgers:

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I include this Badger shot just because it makes me smile:

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The Heron is only visiting occasionally now but that doesn’t mean that the frogs can let their guard down:

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Very pleased to see that the Tawny visited the other night:

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The Kestrel was back in her new favourite place today:

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And both male and female Sparrowhawk have been around as well:

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Male Sparrowhawk bathing.
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Female Sparrowhawk on the gate.
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Something else altogether on the gate

Nesting is starting in earnest for many of the birds:

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Last year a little Wren built her nest in a novelty teapot nest box:

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However, unfortunately it was just far too vulnerable to predation by Magpies and sadly that is exactly what happened. Well, this year we have wrapped this nest box in a bubble of chicken wire which we hope would allow a Wren through but keep it all safe from big bully birds:

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I agree that it doesn’t look as good but what does that matter?

We have a pair of Grey Partridges back as regular visitors to the seed on the strip. It is a male and a female and so hopefully a breeding pair.

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At the wood, we have logged a new species – a Red-Legged Partridge.

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This shot of it is not great and so here is an internet photo of it:

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Whereas our native Grey Partridge made it across to the UK itself after the last ice age, this species was introduced as a game bird into East Anglia from France in the 1770s. It is difficult to properly assess the wild population of these birds because six million are released each year for sporting purposes. Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you, six million is what I read on the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust website (gwct.org.uk is quite a good read for a slightly different view on wildlife).

The wood, too, has come alive with insects:

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Buff-tailed on Salix.
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Dark-edged Bee-fly on Primrose

Other photos from the wood:

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I also read from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust website that 35 million Pheasants are released for shooting purposes every year. Staggering and what an eye opener. Nothing gets shot in our wood – or only over my dead body.
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Two Badgers in the wood.
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Crop spraying in the field adjoining the wood.
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Sunflower hearts and Niger seed feeders.
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Two Marsh Tits – the left hand one is the one that was ringed here a few weeks ago.
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Male Great Spotted Woodpecker (red at the back of his head)
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I like this one.

The last photos for today are taken within an hour of each other at the wild pond back at the meadows and seem to be the perfect pair of pairs:

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The Reptiles Reawaken

Our reptiles have woken up. Here are two juvenile Slow worms basking under a reptile sampling square:

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Also, this fully grown one:

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Lizards are  now warming themselves up in the mornings under these squares as well:

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The reptile reawakening is a real mark of spring having sprung. Other signs are the carpets of Sweet Violet that are dotted around the meadows at the moment:

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These intensely purple little flowers  are acting as an early nectar source for the queen Bumblebees that have overwintered and now need urgent refuelling as they search for nest sites. Here is a Red-tailed queen:

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In previous Marches, we have had large flocks of Starlings which gather on the Kent coast ready to start back across to Eastern Europe and Scandanavia for the summer. They have spent the winter in the UK, amazing us all with their murmurations at dusk over reed beds, but are now going back to breed. We probably missed them gathering this year  because we were away, but we did have a small flock yesterday captured by the camera up on the strip.

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A female Kestrel was balancing on an improbably slender twig yesterday. Since as usual I had the wrong lens on my camera, I tried to edge a little closer from behind to get a better picture. But this photo captures the moment she sussed me and then she was off:

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Here is another regular bird of prey around here: the male Sparrowhawk in his favourite lurking place on the gate:

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And I cannot leave any roundup of bird activity in the meadows without mentioning this one:

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I do like this photo taken by a trail camera because it really emphasises the sheer size of a Heron. It takes a lot of frogs to keep that thing fed. The frequency that this bird is visiting has really dropped thank goodness – perhaps down every other day.

The bird ringer came today now that the winds have dropped. His target bird was Linnet again since so little is known of their movements and there is still much to find out. Well, we were all pleased that he caught eight of them (he is spending his morning coming here to ring birds and we feel a certain responsibility to provide some for him) and even more pleased that two of them had been previously ringed. One he himself had ringed last year, but the other was ringed elsewhere. He will now report the details on this bird’s leg ring to the BTO and they will let him know where it had been originally ringed.  We await this information….

Here are the three female Badgers:

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and for some reason one of them was out and about in the daylight yesterday morning:

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In the regeneration area of the wood, the wild Primroses are coming up in abundance:

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There are confirmed at least two Badgers associated with the single-hole sett that we have within the wood:

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A second Badger can be seen in the background.

There was no freshwater in the wood until we dug a cheap and cheerful plastic bath into the ground soon after buying the wood as a stop gap measure whilst we decided on where to build a proper pond. However, it continues to attract many visitors:

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Two Redwing and a Blue Tit
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Four Redwing
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A Jay just after a bath
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Squirrels are frequent visitors
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Great Spotted Woodpecker
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Wood Pigeon
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Four Blackbirds and a Song Thrush
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Song Thrush, Two Blackbirds ands a Great Spotted Woodpecker drinking.
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Wren
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Jay bathing
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Badger
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Wood Pigeon

Perhaps this makeshift pond all looks a bit of a ramshackle eyesore to us, but it is great to see that it is being used and appreciated by its target audience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographic Backlog

We have been away for a couple of weeks. Whilst it is exciting to go and see the wildlife of another part of the world, it is certainly always lovely to be back home again.

Of course we left plenty of trail cameras quietly monitoring the goings on in the meadows and the wood in our absence. In fact there is quite a photographic backlog to work our way through.

We are yet to visit the wood to see what we have there, but here are the highlights from the meadows.

Although it is another month before the Badger cubs might be expected to come above ground, we are thrilled to get a sneak preview of them when their mother decided to move them to a new sett:

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These two photos are about six minutes apart and so it is probably safe to assume that these are two separate cubs being moved.

Here are a couple of daytime photos of lovely healthy foxes:

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And Green Woodpeckers always do things a little bit differently from other birds:

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The female Sparrowhawk has been photographed at the pond:

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In these photos above, you will notice the defences that we put down in the wild pond in an attempt to provide some protection to the frogs who were being eaten in vast numbers by a Grey Heron. Well, the Heron continued to visit while we were away although much less regularly now that the spawn laying frenzy is over for another year:

 

 

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We see that it also visited the hide pond and helped itself to some frogs there as well:

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It would be great to see a bit less of this bird.

Finally, the Parakeet that has been flying around the meadows for a few months has now been confirmed as an Alexandrine Parakeet – the bird ringer managed to get some photos of it and so we now know for sure. Although the shot of it below doesn’t show the diagnostic red patches on its wings, it does show the much heftier bill and wide black marking on its neck. It is also a much larger bird that the Ring-Necked Parakeet:

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We have returned to the meadows to find that glorious spring has arrived. Looking forward now to going to the wood to see what has been going on there…